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Allowing silence

Similar to music, where the silence between the notes gives meaning to the sound, listening requires a high tolerance for silence. Just like listening to your inner voice requires you to slow down and quiet down, listening to others requires the same. In my organizational leadership studies, we had a unique class on leadership focusing on the philosophy of Benedictine monks. Benedict encouraged the monks to "control [their] tongues and remain silent, not speaking unless asked a question" (Chittister, 2009, p 71). In modern-day life, it seems extreme not to speak unless asked a specific question. However, "Radical restraint of speech," as suggested in the course resources, may have its benefits.

We tend to fear silence – especially in a group setting. We sit awkwardly, avoiding eye contact, hoping that someone else will say something until we crack underneath the pressure and say something even if we don't have anything to say. It would do us well to do as the educator Parker Palmer (1993) suggests and "abandon the notion that 'nothing is happening when it is silent, to see how much new clarity silence often brings" (p. 80). Another author points out that "after a full and frank disclosure with genuine listening on both sides, a quiet and solitary interval is needed … for cherishing the otherness and challenge of what one has heard" (Casey, 2001, p. 172).

When embraced, silence can be a friend rather than the awkward enemy that we tend to characterize it as. "Often it is in silence and solitude that a true solution to problems is found" (Casey, 2001, p. 173). I challenge you to seek silence before speaking. Solutions often reveal themselves in silence.


Casey, M. (2001). A guide to living in the truth: St. Benedict's teaching on humility. Liguori/Triumph.

Chittister, J. (2009). The rule of Benedict: Insights for the ages. Crossroad.

Palmer, P. J. (1993) To know as we are known: Education as a spiritual journey. Harper.

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